That grey cloud that has been hovering over the New York City Ballet for quite a while has lifted – at least it did last night at the Kennedy Center where everything was beautiful at the ballet. And while NYCB may be going though a rough period, it’s also time to celebrate the new artistic director, Jonathan Stafford and associate artistic director, Wendy Whelan, who greeted the audience with positive words and generous smiles.
…my eyes kept watching Sara Mearns who dominated center stage as the curtain closed.
Troubles aside, there’s no company like NYCB, performing the old, new, and, especially, George Balanchine’s neoclassic masterpiece, “Symphony in C,” the glorious finale for Program A that repeats tonight and Sunday afternoon.
Last evening ride to the Kennedy Center was surprisingly smooth, past the Nationals Stadium where Bryce Harper was playing for the other team, then around the cherry trees in the Tidal Basin. After the free Millennium Stage performance at 6 p.m., we took a stroll through the Center’s Hall of Nations to view an extraordinary photo exhibit of refugee camps throughout the world. The National Geographic Photo Camp, open daily through June 20, showcases the students’ perspectives on issues that are important to all of us.
The highlight, of course, was the return of NYCB in a too short run, only six days and eight ballets for a company that has visited DC annually since 1974. As the first sign of spring in the ballet world, these dancers should be dancing at least as long as the cherry blossoms are blooming.
In the curtain opener, the dancers were poised on stage in a pastoral setting that resembled a romantic painting. Then eight male dancers, costumed in off-white by Virgil Abloh and lit by Mark Stanley, burst onto the stage in “Composer’s Holiday,” created last year by 19-year-old Gianna Reisen, the youngest choreographer to make a ballet for NYCB.
Set to Lukas Foss’s “Three American Pieces for Violin and Piano,” the ballet is both a feast for the eyes and ears. It’s always special to hear a live orchestra accompany the dancers – kudos to Conductor Daniel Capps – and especially nice to hear two lovely renditions on the violin (Arturo Delmoni) and piano (Susan Walters).
Reisen’s work reminds one of Balanchine’s early music visualization ballets where we savor the solos and duets dancers Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Emma Von Enck, Kennard Henson and Roman Mejia, a true talent from a family of ballet dancers who have graced the DC stages.
George Balanchine’s unique talent of creating complex movement to compliment the syncopated score was immediately recognized in his “Kammermusik No. 2” to Paul Hindemith’s score that features a piano solo to applaud (pianist Stephen Gosling).
Balanchine’s choice of music always compliments the dance and this piece is no exception. It’s a splendid ensemble ballet with a host of virtuoso solos by Abi Stafford, Teresa Reichlen, Joseph Gordon and Russell Janzen who danced with abandon. All 12 dancers reminded this writer of a team of wild stallions ready to bolt.
Jerome Robbins’ created “Opus 19” in 1979 for Patricia McBride and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and I had the opportunity to review the work renamed “The Dreamer.” I always admired Robbins’ uplifting gestures that support his Jewish heritage – think “Fiddler on the Roof” musical, which he created.
The ballet for 14 dancers is set to Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major,” which has become one of the most beloved works for violin in the classic repertory. Kurt Nikkanen deserved the ovation for his violin solo last night.
Dancers Lauren Lovette and Taylor Stanley also deserve praise for the lovely moments in the ballet. Lovett embodies the earthly qualities of a mature, maternal dancer. Stanley, on the other hand, appears spiritual, poetic and romantic. Together with the 12 ensemble dancers (who are constantly moving their arms in an uplifting gesture), the effect is mesmerizing.
Upon discovering a long-lost Bizet score, Balanchine took only two weeks to choreograph the neoclassical masterpiece Symphony in C, which dazzles with dozens of dancers – the ballerinas in sparkling Swarovski gems – and brings down the house at each performance. Set to Bizet’s high-spirited score, last night’s finale showcased Ashley Boulder who radiated her joy in her on-the-money pirouettes. Both Jared and Tyler Angle dazzled. Nonetheless, my eyes kept watching Sara Mearns who dominated center stage as the curtain closed.
Perhaps my friend, a noted dance historian, summed it up best when she whispered during intermission, “The New York City Ballet is a sign of spring…of hope…and we certainly need these ballets to lift or spirit.” Indeed, last night was uplifting, hopeful and magical in many ways.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.
The New York City Ballet Program A plays tonight and closes the engagement Sunday afternoon, April 7, at 1:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Centers Opera House, 2700 F Street, Northwest, in Washington, DC 20566. For more information or to purchase tickets call the box office at 800-444-1324 or go online.